Published: December 9, 2008
Dorothea Rabkin, who, with her husband, Leo, was a distinguished collector and generous donor to the American Folk Art Museum, New York City, died November 25, due to complications of Parkinson’s disease. She served on the museum’s collections committee for many years.
“The museum has lost a dear and generous friend with the passing of Dorothea,” said Maria Ann Conelli, executive director of the American Folk Art Museum. “She shared her artwork with the museum, her knowledge of the field, and, most importantly, her love for folk art. She will be greatly missed.”
Rabkin was born in Berlin on June 28, 1921, into an upper-middle-class half-Jewish family. During the Nazi rise to power, her mother, Elsa Herr Herz, denounced her children and divorced her Jewish husband, Franz Herz, who would commit suicide during the war. In the meantime, Rabkin and her twin sister, Rose, were separated and moved frequently by the underground. After the war ended, Rabkin and her sister were reunited. She owned and operated a rare books shop before she immigrated to New York City in 1949.
In the United States, Rabkin worked for a rare books dealer, and then as the secretary to the promotions director for a group of trade magazines serving the food and drug industry. She was fluent in three languages †German, English and French.
In 1958, she met and married Leo Rabkin, an artist. Together the couple shared a passion for collecting and frequented flea markets and second-hand shops. They were especially interested in country furniture, quilts, pressed glass, paintings and pottery.
As their collecting interests evolved, they began to seek singular objects, often by unidentified makers, that were three-dimensional, bold, audacious, quirky and wryly humorous. The couple were among the first to recognize the power of the paintings of South Carolina artist Sam Doyle and Pennsylvania artist Justin McCarthy, the stone carvings of North Carolina artist Raymond Coins and the garden environment of New Jersey artist Matteo Radoslovich.
The iconic whirligig Uncle Sam Riding a Bicycle is one of the more than 200 gifts by the Rabkins to the American Folk Art Museum. In 1980, the museum exhibited 143 objects from their collection.
Additional exhibitions of the couple’s collection include “Americans at Work and Play: Folk Sculpture from the Collection of Dorothy and Leo Rabkin” (1982, at the Nassau County Museum of Art, Roslyn Harbor, N.Y.) and “Just Plain People: Folk Sculpture from the Collection of Dorothea and Leo Rabkin” (1998, at the Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College, New York City).
Dorothea Rabkin is survived by her husband. A memorial service is to be conducted at a later date.
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